Last Friday, after media maven Oprah Winfrey sent her first tweet during a live broadcast, Twitter saw its share of U.S. Internet visits increase by a remarkable 24 percent, according to the industry analyst firm Hitwise. The company also found that visits to the Twitter site were up 43 percent over the previous Friday.
Oprah's decision to join the Twitterati follows on the heels of (and may have been inspired by) a well-publicized contest between actor Ashton Kutcher and CNN to see which could be the first to cross the million-follower mark. Much to the chagrin of the media outlet, Kutcher prevailed, but most observers expect Oprah to rapidly sail past that mark.
Boon or Bane?
Among the many questions currently unanswered is the effect that such high-profile micro-bloggers will have on the young site. Currently, Twitter has about 14 million members, less than 10 percent of the total claimed by social-networking leader Facebook, which boasts more than 200 million members.
"There's been much debate among loyal Twitter users," Hitwise senior online analyst Heather Hopkins said in a blog post, "about whether this spells the end for Twitter's coolness, as soccer moms sign up in droves."
And the soccer moms are clearly interested: The service has picked up a cool one million new users in the five days since the first Oprah tweet, and there is widespread speculation that many more Oprah fans will follow her lead. It could be, as actor Humphrey Bogart said in Casablanca, the start of a beautiful friendship.
But Twitter has wrestled with service issues over the past several months, growing pains associated with the challenges of handling millions of tweets from around the world. Members are often impatient with outages and service irregularities, and the prospect of millions of new subscribers in a short time frame raises concerns about server overload.
Micro Attention Spans
It's also hard to say who has the shorter attention span, Hollywood celebrities or the American public. Despite the small amount of writing required, Twitter has quickly illustrated how little some celebrities have to say. There's also been widespread mocking of the fact that some celebrities have hired ghost-tweeters to post for them. (Anticipating the increasingly rapid death of newspapers, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd suggested that could be her future career.)
As entertaining as the burrito choices and daily tribulations of stars may be, the fundamental question for Twitter is the same one facing every other Internet service, from Google all the way down to the lowliest blog: Can the service generate revenue?
That's a question that Twitter will have to answer sooner or later, presumably in a business plan longer than 140 characters. Right now, the company says, "While our business model is in a research phase, we spend more money than we make."
My other blogs;
1. Across this bridge
4. When life become a book